This poem by Neruda exemplifies the concept of the “metal phase” within the five phases:
All day, column after column,
a squadron of feathers,
a fluttering airborne
the tiny infinity
of the window where I search,
question, work, observe, wait.
The tower of sand
and marine space
join there, comprise
Above, the sky unfolds.
So it was: palpitating,
sharp right angles passed
heading northward, westward,
toward open space,
toward the star,
toward the spire of salt and solitude
where the sea casts its clocks to the winds.
It was an angle of birds
that latitude of iron and snow,
inexorably advancing along
their rectilinear road:
the skyborne numbers
flew with the hungry rectitude
of a well-aimed arrow, winging
their way to procreate, formed
by urgent love and geometry.
I kept looking as far as
the eye could see and saw
nothing but orderly flight,
the multitude of wings against the wind:
I saw serenity multiplied in that transparent hemisphere
crossed by the obscure decision
of those birds in the firmament.
I saw only the flyway.
All remained celestial.
But among the throngs of birds
homing for their destination
flock after flock sketched out
united by the voice of a single flight,
by the unity of fire,
by thirst, by hunger,
by the cold,
by the precarious day that wept
before being swallowed by night,
by the erotic urgency of life:
the unity of birds
toward the toothless black coasts,
lifeless pinnacles, yellow isles,
where the sun works overtime
and the plural pavilion of sardines
spreads over the warm sea.
On the stone assaulted
by the birds
the secret was set forth:
stone, moisture, excrement, and solitude
will ferment and beneath the blood-red sun
sandy offspring will be born
and they, too, will one day fly back
to the tempestuous cold light,
to the antarctic feet of Chile.
Now they pass, filling the distance,
a faint flapping of wings against the light,
a throbbing winged unity
that flies without breaking
from the migratory
which ashore divides,
Above the water, in the sky,
the innumerable bird flies on,
the vessel is one,
the transparent ship
builds unity with so many wings,
with so many eyes opened to the sea,
sails over a singular peacefulness
with the movement of one immense wing.
Seabird, migratory foam,
wing from north and south, wave wing,
cluster deployed by flight,
multiplied hungry heart,
you will arrive, great bird, to strip
from the necklace the fragile eggs to be
hatched by the wind and nourished by the sand
until another flight again
multiplies life, death, growth,
wet cries, hot dung,
being born again, and leaving, far
from the windy waste to another windy waste.
from that silence, flee, polar birds,
to the vast rocky silence
and from the nest to the errant number,
sea arrows, bequeath me
the wet glory of time elapsed,
the renowned permanence of feathers
that are born, that die, endure, and throb,
creating fish by fish their long sword,
cruelty against cruelty, the very light
and against the wind and the sea, life.
-Pablo Neruda, translated by Jack Schmitt.
from I Explain a Few Things: Selected Poems. edited by Ilan Stavans. Douglas & McIntyre Ltd.; New York, 2007.
According to the Huang Di Nei Jing, Chapter 69, the metal energy is “clean, uninhibited and bold…When it changes all things become more contracted. When it becomes destructive things wilt and die.”
In the poem Migration, the cycle and connection between heaven and earth is repeatedly called upon. Neruda illuminates the ideas of birth and death, unity and dispersion, clarity and reflection, throbbing and cutting, and ascension and return. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the energy of metal governs these interactions between the earthly/mundane and the heavenly/spiritual within the body and mind. This ‘spirit’ of the metal phase is known as the Po, which enters us with our first breath and exits with our last. As Lonny Jarrett, a “Five-Element” practitioner puts it in his book Nourishing Destiny:
“The PO consists of the seven emotions (fear, anxiety, anger, joy, sorrow, worry, and grief) which are the primal urges that facilitate the grasping of life. As an earthbound spirit, I think of the po as relating to gravity, a force that draws things in toward the center of our being and holds them there. The function of the po is to contact what is of essential worth, receive it into (lungs), and retain it within (large intestine) while returning the yin mundane influences back to the earth from whence they came…The po turns the nourishing yang (sunlight) of later heaven, which is contained in air and captured by all that grows, into the body. Upon death the po becomes fertilizer, returning to earth in a way that empowers new growth.”
In the poem we feel the manifestation of the need to survive, the ability to survive, the immense strength and courage that it takes to work hard while there is a condition of scarcity and to work equally as hard when there is a condition of plenty. We can translate the pure physical power of the life cycle, of reproduction, to the experience of spiritual rebirth and the necessity of mental clarity in leading a productive life. Addressing the function of this great returning in preparation of reproduction, Lonny Jarrett again provides illumination:
“The season associated with the metal element is termed the ‘fall’ in English. On an external level, it is a fall from the height of life back into the void and barrenness of winter. On an inner level, however, this may be seen not as a fall, but a return to origin in a more highly evolved state. This return is often depicted as an evolution in Daoist mythology as the sage, who, in gaining immortality, ascends to heaven on the back of a dragon or crane.” (p260)
Each time we cycle through the year, when we come to the Fall we can see more clearly what tools we have, and whether they are usable or not. This was traditionally the time to reckon accounts in China. We associate it with cleansing and pruning in the West. In the poem, the invocation of ‘geometry’ appropriately points to the identification of the underlying structures which allows us to make use of them. We can use the inspiration and material goods of the height of summer in order to create a better or more efficient experience during the next year, both physically and mentally/socially. We preserve the fruits and vegetables by putting them in containers, maybe fermenting them, for winter storage; we use the strength of the community during good weather to help build structures to house our families and animals during the cold months. We use the fire of summer’s growth to shape the metal of autumn’s bounty into a lasting tool.
The idea of the metal phase also encompasses the necessity of interacting with a greater society of people in order to survive and lead a fulfilling life. Not only does the survival of the individual ultimately depend on the group during times of stress, but also the survival of the species depends on group action at key points. In scarce times, social boundaries governing resource usage allow everyone to get by; if violated, famine could result. Autumn is a time to recognize the value of self (self-worth) within the context of society (as right action) as well as individually (as righteous existence). When nature shows contraction and decay, humans consciously or unconsciously face mortality, loss and grief. Autumn clarifies our relation to the boundaries between life and death, our ability to accept the will of a greater power, and ultimately the interdependence of all species. Just as fungi within the forest help fix minerals from the soil into a usable form for trees, the bacteria that live within our bowels help us assimilate nutrients and prevent parasitic growth. The sunlight that enables plants to grow becomes tangible and useful to us as we inhale the oxygen that plants create during photosynthesis.
Planet association of Metal according to five phases: VENUS
Venus is the brightest object in the night sky besides the moon (apparent magnitude -4.6). Its surface is composed of 70% lava plains and contains hundreds of volcanoes up to 150km in diameter. Venus is the only planet that rotates clockwise (retrograde), and spins on a nearly vertical axis very slowly (6.5km/hr). There are five Venus-days between its closest visits to Earth, which is about every 584 Earth-days. It is a morning star (brightest just before sunrise) in the fall, and evening star (brightest just after sunset) from winter through spring. In Mandarin, Venus is named Tai Bai (great white) or Qi Ming (bright clear).
Acupuncture points with terminology relating to the color white and to metal:
Tai Bai (great white)= Spleen 3, the earth point on an earth channel. This point is very nourishing for the earth phase, and since earth is the mother of metal, it nourishes metal as well. More on this later.
Yin Bai (hidden white)= Spleen 1. Wood point on earth channel (controlling). This point allows the breath of the earth to rise to the lungs, creating balance between earth and heaven. This point can also mean ‘sunrise’ which is associated with Venus, the brightest morning star in the autumn. SP 1 is also the first Ghost point, used for mental/emotional disorders. This point controls the earth element, but opens the lungs. Lung is the first meridian since it is responsible for bringing in heavenly Qi. Liver (wood element) is the last meridian, and to complete the circuit the energy moves from the wood phase to the metal phase. This point represents the axis of earth, which gives birth to metal but is controlled by wood. Sp1 can be seen as a fulcrum for this transition.
Xia Bai (guarding white)=Lu 4. This point epitomizes all that metal stands for: beyond courage, quality, clarity, purity, refinement, and strength, it enables the ability and action of being a ‘spiritual warrior.’ To BE what we know, to make ourselves useful in order to accomplish great undertakings.
Po Hu (Soul Door)= BL42. Treats the spirit of the metal element. Opens the eyes when the patient has given up, enables contact with worlds of essence so the spirit can breathe. Helps the patient participate in the reciprocity of life.
Jin Men, Golden/Metal Gate= BL63
Da Zhong, Great Bell/Cup= KD4
Fu Bai, Floating White/Superficial Whiteness= GB10
Yang Bai, Yang White/Extended Whiteness= GB14
Jue Gu, Hanging Cup/Suspended Bell= GB39
Si Bai, Four Whites/Brightness= ST2